Sep 17, 2019
Bruce Linton's next act: Pot shops, pets and psychedelics
Linton says he wishes someone would buy CannTrust
Bruce Linton is ready for his next act. His next several acts, in fact.
Linton, the former co-chief executive officer and founder of Canopy Growth Corp., announced Tuesday he's joining three companies in an advisory role as he plots his next course within the cannabis and legal drug industry.
Linton will take on new roles either as a senior advisor or director for Michigan-based cannabis dispensary chain Gage Cannabis USA, CBD pet food maker Better Choice Co. and medical psychedelic provider Mind Medicine Inc., according to a release. Linton said he is also in final negotiations to work with a U.S.-based multi-state operator.
"I liked what was going on in different geographies and topics because I found they would interact in ways you wouldn't expect," Linton told BNN Bloomberg. "If you start trying to figure out how to help animals, you might be able to help something with humans you haven't thought of before."
In addition to Linton's new roles, he is also making direct investments in two cannabis companies – Slang Worldwide Inc. and DNA Genetics – both of which have existing relationships with Canopy Growth during the former executive's time running the company. Linton's total investment in both companies is approximately $3 million, he said.
"I've known them for a long time, but I can't work with them because of the non-compete. Still, I think they're both undervalued and carry a lot of clout in the industry," Linton said.
As part of Linton's termination agreement with Canopy Growth, he is not permitted to work for a Canadian cannabis company due to a non-compete clause. However, he is allowed to work for a U.S. or globally-based firm, a move he hinted at during a previous interview with BNN Bloomberg.
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The new positions and investments represent a new chapter in Linton's corporate career. After spending decades working in Ottawa's tight-knit tech sector, Linton struck pay dirt after founding Tweed Inc. and receiving one of the first licences to grow and supply medical marijuana in 2014.
Since then, Tweed, which later changed its name to Canopy Growth, went public on the TSX Venture, graduated to the TSX big board and eventually became one of the biggest cannabis companies in the world thanks to Linton's indefatigable ability to court investment on both Bay Street and Wall Street.
However, his most famous partnership with Constellation Brands Inc., the beer maker which invested $5 billion for a 38 per cent stake in Canopy, ultimately led to his downfall at the pot firm. Canopy's board of directors, controlled by Constellation executives and shaken by a string of sizable quarterly losses, terminated Linton in July.
After he was fired, Linton spent some time at his home in Smiths Falls, Ont. cleaning his garage and finishing some long-delayed household chores, gave some speeches at a few cannabis conferences and fielded dozens of pitches from pot firms interested in retaining his services.
"I turned down some of the more significant financial offers because I couldn't figure out how to deliver that much value to them," Linton said.
Linton added he wasn't interested in returning to a CEO-type role where "he'd always be on 24-7" and relished the opportunity to take a step back and jump in whenever a company needed a solution to a problem he thinks he could solve.
"They all have people who want to do that job already," he joked. "When things don't work out, I want to be the first call they make to work out the problem. The problem's the interesting thing to me."
Still, Linton's re-emergence in the cannabis sector comes at a pivotal time. Legalization in Canada has gotten off to a fairly rocky start in the past year amid slower-than-expected sales, a dearth of physical retail outlets and several regulatory and governance scandals that's cast a dark cloud on the entire sector. Meanwhile, dozens of respiratory illnesses and at least six deaths in the U.S. have been linked to vaping, leading to calls for stricter regulation on vape products for both tobacco and cannabis.
Linton acknowledged those industry-wide criticisms but said he's more focused on the bigger picture, where cannabis is being used globally mainly as a medicine to treat a variety of ailments.
"I'm not saying I'm disciplined or reckless, but there's a group of investors who would like to gain a lot over time but don't need everything tomorrow,” Linton said. “And I think they're looking for companies with an outcome that's both challenging and rewarding. That's where I'm at.”
With assistance from Jon Erlichman
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated one of Linton’s roles is with Mind Medicine of Australia. In fact, Linton will act as a director for the Toronto-based Mind Medicine Inc. BNN Bloomberg regrets the error.